During my first performance review at my first real job, my boss opened with, "You make my life easier; no matter who you work for in the future, keep doing that."
He told me bosses like the employees that make their lives easier and tend to reward those that keep that frame of mind with their colleagues, too. It makes perfect sense -- if you make people's lives easier, they'll want to work with you. But as a newbie to the professional work world, no one had ever articulated that to me, and it has stuck with me ever since (even if I haven't always totally nailed it ... sorry, boss).
With that in mind, I asked some of my colleagues if they could share similar pieces of advice they'd received from bosses or mentors over the years, the stuff that really stuck with them. I've compiled their best pieces of advice below so we can all soak up the wisdom (and tweet them, if you're so inclined).
Great Advice From Great Bosses
I received this advice before I went to college ("Say yes to lunch or dinner invitations even if you've already eaten!") and again from one of my first bosses. He gave me an opportunity to run paid ads on Twitter, and when I hesitated, he told me to say yes even though I had no idea how to run paid ads on Twitter. Say yes now, figure it out later. This works for work and in life -- say yes to projects you don't have expertise in, say yes to meeting new friends, say yes to travel opportunities in new countries, etc.
Whenever someone tells you something unflattering about yourself, your natural inclination is to fight back, but doing so can often lead to unproductive conversations and prevent you from getting better. Instead, take it to heart for 24 hours, think about what's true, what isn't, and what you can improve upon, then circle back with the person who gave you the feedback to respond and share your point of view. Doing so removes some of the emotion from the conversation and allows you to focus on getting better.
What he meant by "throwing your fastball" is resolving conflict with conflict. Not all conflicts are best solved head-on. Sometimes the best way to overcome a hurdle is to go around it, or even change course. Although I received this advice as an individual contributor, it still holds true as a manager. For example, it's important for managers to sometimes let members of their team resolve their own conflicts. Resolution is an important skill to develop, yet if the manager relies too heavily on his or her "fastball," the team will be deprived of this vital skill.
Let's say so-and-so was the valedictorian at a prestigious private boarding high school. Then they went to an Ivy League university and graduated with a 4.0 … sounds like they’d make a great employee, right? No, not necessarily. All we can glean from those insights is that so-and-so’s parents were probably rich, and the person in question was good at school (and possibly good at cheating at school). And those facts really have no bearing on how successful someone will be at a job. A former boss (in the tech/marketing space) once told me that the smartest, hardest-working employee he ever had was a college dropout who -- before joining the company -- had spent the past 10 years tending bar and shucking oysters. If you’re a good worker, you’re a good worker. Don’t assume the folks with fancy-pants degrees are any better than the folks without them.
The first time I asked for a promotion, I came in over-prepared with a case and an ask. I was worried I was overstepping my bounds, but my manager was impressed. He encouraged me to keep pushing in my career. It taught me that my career was in my own hands. As wonderful as my boss was (and a boss that encourages you to push him is pretty great), it still was up to me to own my career. If I wanted something, I had to make it happen.
I was talking to my manager about something that was bothering me. I proposed some solutions to the problem, but I felt like it was coming across as me just complaining. I voiced that concern to him, and he shared that little gem. It really resonated with me.
Make your gratitude apparent through your gestures toward other folks on other teams. For example, I saw my manager do things like buy small gifts for coworkers who helped his cause. It's something I've tried to emulate, as well. It helps build internal rapport across teams and really show my appreciation for people who go the extra mile to help me hit my goals, even if it isn't a top priority for them.
At first it seemed harsh. I wanted to help my peers succeed, but it turns out I was actually covering for them. It was making it hard for them to learn what they needed to learn and hard for our manager to understand who needed help. I was getting in the way of making the team successful long-term.
I was dealing with some issues where I felt people were taking advantage of me because I was just the nice girl at the office that smiled and said yes all the time; in reality, I was just not good at setting limits. She reassured me that you can be nice and set firm limits -- it's not one or the other. It was an important lesson for how I carried myself, as well as how I interpreted other people's demeanors.
Pretty much every HubSpot marketer will tell you the first piece of praise they got from CMO Mike Volpe was: "Nice job. Keep going ..." The first time I heard it I got this bizarre mixture of pride for the work I'd done and conviction that I could do way better. It's a good reminder, whether you are one year in or a seasoned pro, that you can always top your last achievement. Do better. Get smarter. Keep going ...
What's the best career advice you've ever received? Also, if you're on the hunt for a new job, check out the inbound.org job board -- lots of cool companies are hiring.